July 29, 2014

The War Over Gaza: A Battlefield Report from the Facebook Front

This title may seem snarky, but it is deadly serious. What the Israeli Defense Forces call Operation Protective Edge, the deadly assault on the population of Gaza, is the most important war so far in the social media era. And this is being forcefully brought to our attention in ways that are both political and personal, but in any case increasingly difficult to avoid.

And the part about a report from the battlefront? That's because I don't pretend this is a definitive or even a deep analysis. It is a quick battlefield bulletin that I hope will get other people to think about this and chip in their own thoughts and experiences.

From the personal

I have been in half a dozen conversations, actual voice to voice conversations, over the last two plus weeks which all centered around a single shared experience. Some friend--an old and dear comrade, or a high school classmate rediscovered in recent years through the magic of the intertubes, an in-law or maybe just some amusing Facebook "friend"--suddenly, unexpectedly, turns out to be a zionist, or perhaps an I’m-not-really-a-zionist equivocator who tut-tuts po-faced over Israel's slaughter of the innocents and suggests that it's really all Hamas's fault.

And how did we learn this? By a news story these friends share, a status report, a comment on a contentious thread. It's jarring, in some instances actually chilling, to find this deep difference. If we explore it, even tentatively, in an online thread or exchange of posts, we can feel the barriers going up. They may not be 20 feet high and made of concrete poured over rebar but they are real barriers, as real as bannings and unfriendings.

To the political

And these lost or damaged friendships, online or IRL, are, in one sense, casualties in one front in the war in Gaza. This not a front restricted to the Raleigh, NC-size, battered hellhole of a ghetto that is both home and prison camp to 1.8 million Palestinian men, women and children. It is a global battlefront, one in which many of us are, willy-nilly, combatants.

At the time Barack Obama took office and moved to ramp down the unjust and unjustifiable occupation of Iraq, there were about 50 million users registered on Facebook globally. Today there are a billion and a third! Twitter use wasn't even on the map.

Blogs, with few exceptions, have been correspondingly diminished as a locale for exchange of news and ideas, while Twitter seems less a replacement for and more of a compliment to Facebook-style social media. As for old skool broadcast news and dead-tree newspapers, they are pale shadows of their former selves. Breaking news comes to more and more people first through social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook.

I'm not saying this is the first war of the new era, Social media was how we tracked the Arab Spring. The continued catastrophic fighting on the Middle East and Ukraine are obvious recent examples.

But this war is one where the battle for public opinion is paramount. Israel is has been exceedingly nervous about social media for quite a while now and devotes considerable effort to promoting her foreign policy on it, though expending only a fraction of the total money it drops on other parts of its coordinated influence buying, lobbying and manifold other public relations (PR) efforts.

Still, those running Israeli social-media efforts, whether in the IDF, the foreign ministry or government-funded think tanks, are faced with a horrific problem. Israel's armed forces, among the largest and best equipped in the world, are engaged in a brutal assault on a poorly armed militia—and on everybody who lives in the same high-security prison camp with them. The photos of shattered children, mourning families, burning power plants, whole neighborhoods reduced to rubble tell a story very different from the one Israel has been promoting.

My neck of the FBosphere

I spend too much time on Facebook and I have a mess of FB "friends." True, many rarely post or even remember they are on. Others have been steered out of my line of sight by restrictive FB algorithms. As a result, most of the people whose stuff I see regularly tend to be folks who share my politics to one degree or another.

And I have found an intense spontaneous response to the assault on Gaza. Comrades and friends around the country have taken up the question in large numbers, posting and linking frequently. In fact, there have been more pleasant surprises, folk I hadn't really expected to see jump in on something like this choosing to stand up, than the disappointing moments I mentioned above.

I certainly have ramped it up, and, in doing so, have tried to develop a more systematic approach, which I will detail in another piece. A couple of my links to articles on the origins of this attack have been shared by dozens of people. And naturally I've tried to promote demonstrations and other protests, and share reports on them.

Israel's strategy

I mentioned the importance the Israeli state and establishment and allied organizations globally place on this battle. The Hebrew term "hasbara" means explanation, but has come to have connotations of PR or propaganda. The IDF maintains a Hasbara War Room (and has for over a year) where college students fluent in a variety of languages sit at 400 computers pretending to be something other than paid advocates of the official Israeli line. Trolls, in other words. Some argue points. Some seek to disrupt threads with ad hominem attacks and nonsensical claims. Some are "concern trolls" who express sympathy for the Gazans and go on to urge capitulation to Israel as the only practical option.

Of course, most of the defenders of Israel one finds on the net are not necessarily paid or sitting in a "war room." Rather they are individual zionists who feel their cause passionately and put it forward with varying degrees of coherence. The arguments do have a certain sameness to them, though. This was masterfully summed up six years ago, by the anti-zionist website Jews sans frontieres who lay out a four point template for  pro-Israel argument:

1. We rock
2. They suck
3. You suck
4. Everything sucks

Besides being extremely funny, in the "If you see me laughing, well, I'm laughing just to keep from crying" sense, it touches on something very profound. Israel's minimum program is to get people to turn their heads away from the suffering of the Palestinian people. Israel holds the military whip hand. If global public opinion doesn't bring pressure to bear on their government and on the US government, Israel's main enabler, they can keep committing these crimes indefinitely.

The Palestinian side

So in a sense our job is to keep the suffering of the Palestinians front and center. Supporters globally have been doing this in recent weeks, but let's not forget that we are functioning as allies of those who live on the real life battlefront.

There are no 400-computer war rooms under central government direction in Gaza (or anyplace else) but there are people with cell phones who can take pictures and post reports, and they have truth on their side. I was reminded of this by a courageous young woman from Ramallah with whom I've had several on-line exchanges on Facebook, We'am Hamdan has been promoting the Palestinian cause on the internet since long before the assault on Gaza, "because the conflict affects my being as a Palestinian living in the occupied territories of the West Bank."

We'am works with an informal crew in Gaza and the West Bank who had a brilliant idea. They started a Facebook page entitled Humans of Palestine. The name tells the story—it was based on the hugely popular internet phenomenon Humans of New York, which couples a snapshot of a person or two and a comment about their life in their own words.
The idea of the page was to reflect the dreams of Palestinian people and their daily lives. But since the offensive started, the page aims at restoring the humanity that is often stripped away when Palestinians are reduced to calculative deaths, forgettable names, and burned and mutilated bodies, rather than people who shared loved ones, stories, dreams and aspirations.
This is a goal that I, for one, intend to learn from and to promote in my little section of the battle front.

Is it worth it?

We'am Hamdan can have moments of self-doubt about the value of her efforts. "Sometimes I feel that it's a stupid virtual battle and it won't change much. Sometimes I feel, No! It's very important to raise awareness within the international community."

Like her, like many of us, I sometimes wonder how much is being accomplished. But until I find a better way of tackling the job, I plan to continue, just as I plan to continue going to demonstrations that the media and the political establishment do their level best to ignore.

One way I hope to do that is with two follow-up pieces to this, one on how I am currently approaching the battlefield in practical terms and one on what happens when, inevitably, the IDF pulls back, leaving ruins in its wake, and Palestinian suffering continues while the world's gaze drifts elsewhere…

I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

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July 17, 2014

Now That's What I Call A Young Adult Book!

It's a dream come true. You know how there's a book you know exists but somehow you can never find it? Well, I am thrilled to say that thanks to the magic of Teh Intertubes and the vagaries of US copyright law, I have finally been able to read The Boy Troopers On Strike Duty, and it's a corker.

Let me back up and take a running start. Have you ever read any of the old Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books, the originals I mean, not the weak tea retreads from the '60s and later? You may recall that the villains were generally swarthy "Dagos" or perhaps sinister Slavs, and our plucky WASP protagonists would best them with grit, strength and ingenuity.

There were scads of similar series, some a bit more proletarian in flavor, I have before me here as I type a copy of one of the volumes in Allen Chapman's Railroad Series, which starts with the delightfully titled RALPH OF THE ROUNDHOUSE Or, Bound to Become a Railroad Man.

I read, back in my teen years, one of the Boy Troopers Series, by one Clair W. Hayes, about two fine young fellows who serve as valued allies of the Pennsylvania State Troopers, one of the first such forces. The other titles in the series were listed and one was The Boy Troopers On Strike Duty. Decades passed and I never came across a copy of this promising title, until last night. An idle search for one prompted Comrade Google to direct me to a very nice scan of the original 1922 edition, all set up for quick reading, full screen.

My heart sank when I saw on the cover and again on the title page The Boy Troopers On Duty. What happened to the Strike part?  Happily, when the story starts on page 3, the title is there again with the fateful word restored and the second paragraph takes us to the streets of a Pittsburgh suburb, Wilmercairn, streets crowded with "foreigners."
Until the day before, these men--or a good many of them, at least--had been apparently faithful employes of the Wilmercairn Steel Tube Company.

Today they were strikers--a small fraction of the steelworkers in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-West Virginia Districts--who had joined a walkout for more money and shorter hours. The total number of men on strike in these districts ran into the millions.
I doubt I'm spoiling anything for potential readers when I say, with regret, that despite this promising start, the working class does not seize state power in the region by the end of the book.

However, the strikers make a good run at it, planning an armed attack to seize the main mill and deploying a couple of machine guns in carrying it out. Not, mind you, that these foreigners could have come up with this on their own. (And generic foreigners is what they remain until page 123, where we finally learn that the "firebrands" are "composed entirely of Hungarians, Slovaks and other foreigners.") No indeed, they were stirred up by homegrown American "professional agitators":
These walking delegates were enlarging on the supposed grievances of the foreign strikers.
Alas, we are introduced to only one of these splendid gents and get no idea of his organizational affiliation or political views.

The factory managers, however, come up with a strategy better than their initially planned army of strikebreakers with the help of the heroes, Dick and Ralph: pitting true blue American workers against the foreigners by promising them much better pay and benefits. Although "there are a hundred 'Hunkies' in the mill to every American," the lads succeed in breaking the strike, with the aid of their state trooper buddies, after any number of fist fights, gun fights and narrow escapes. And the boss's daughter for romantic interest

Even so, it is a close thing and one can dream (even if one is not among the "Boys 12-16 Years of Age," who were the author's target audience).

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June 29, 2014

A Black Dyke Reflects on the Panthers

[It's Pride, at least here in NYC. In honor of that fact, I am posting here an article that Comrade Google suggests is not otherwise available on the Internet. It appeared as one of a stunning roundup of pieces by Black LGBTQ writers in The Advocate in one issue in the 1990s, under the irresistible title "Black Out."

By me, they should all be online, but I am posting this one for obvious reasons. It is by Alycee Lane, then a grad student at UCLA. In it she discusses what the Black Panther Party had meant to her—as an elementary school "baby dyke" in Buffalo and then later as she learned about Huey Newton's famous speech in which he welcomed the women's and gay liberation movements and called on the BPP to work with them. That was in 1970 when the modern queer movement was first erupting in all its Stonewall-fueled glory—and when many other self-styled revolutionary and socialist organizations shied away from it, or adopted appallingly homophobic stances. 

There's a lot about our history to be learned from this short piece, and there's always a chance that it won't be up at Fire on the Mountain forever, so if you agree with me on its importance, I encourage you to save it and to make sure others have access.]

The Black Panther Party And Gay Liberation

By Alycee Lane

I really wanted to be a member of the Black Panther Party when I was younger. I imagined myself one day galvanizing the other kids in my neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., and conducting a righteous raid on that one house I passed on the way to my integrated school—that horrifying white house that donned, hatefully, a sprawling banner stained with the curse WHITE POWER. Yeah, I was going to conduct a righteous raid. I figured this was the Panther thing to do, especially since I had seen the brothers walking proudly with their guns, policing the police, who were, in my young opinion, somehow connected to the curse.

In spite of their guns and "baaad black man" attitudes, it never occurred to me to feel intimidated by or afraid of the Panthers. For they never failed to greet me with love—"Good morning, little sister" and "How are you doing in school? Making those grades? Learning about your history?" I simply wanted to be with and be like them. I didn't know about the Panther

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June 28, 2014

For My 'rades in Jackson, A Poem of Mississippi Summer

[Some comrades of mine are among those gathered this weekend in Jackson MS for a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, or Mississippi Summer as we called it then. I post this poem for them.

I wasn't in Mississippi that summer. I was fourteen, not what the organizers were looking for, and my mother didn't think much of the idea either. So I followed it in the news.

When James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman disappeared on the night of June 21, we all pretty much knew what had happened. By a week later, 50 years ago tonight, there was no doubt.

This poem by John Beecher, a white southerner, a communist and a people's poet, locates Summer, 1964 in the long battle for freedom. For me the closing stanza conjures up 1964 as little else can, save only the civil rights anthems we sang, North and South, as the freedom struggle advanced.]

For the 60th Anniversary of the Beecher Memorial
United Church of Christ in New Orleans, Louisiana,
October 25, 1964

Old church with the same name as my own
you and I were born in the same year
It has taken two generations to bring us together
Now here we are in New Orleans
meeting for the first time
I hope I can say the right thing
what the man you are named for
might have said on one of his better days
He was my great-great-uncle
but come to think of it
he was instrumental in my founding too
Rolled in a tube at home I have a certificate
signed by Henry Ward Beecher
after he had united my grandfather and grandmother
in the holy bonds of matrimony
at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn
The year was 1858
and James Buchanan was President
The South was riding high
making the North catch and send back its escaped Negroes
and it looked to most people
as if slavery was going to last forever
but not to Henry Ward Beecher
which I suppose is why you named your church for him
He certainly helped change all that
together with his brother Edward and his sister
whose name was Harriet
and Mr. Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant
and a large number of young men
who wound up under the long rows of crosses
at Gettysburg Chickamauga Cold Harbor and such places

Nineteen hundred and four was a better year
than 1858
and the building of this church was a sign of it
It was no longer a crime to meet and worship by yourselves
with your own preacher
your own beautiful songs
with no grim-lipped regulators to stand guard over you
nobody breaking up your services with a bull-whip
Yes this was some better
Booker T. Washington was in his hey-day
the apostle of segregation
"We can be in all things social as separate as the fingers"
he said and Mr. Henry Grady the Atlanta editor
applauded him to the echo
as did all the other good white folks around
and they said
"This boy Booker has a head on his shoulders
even if it is a nappy one."
Dr. Washington was 48 years old at the time
but you know how southern whites talk
a man is a boy all his life if he's black
Dr. Washington was a pragmatist
And settled for what he could get
When they announced that dinner was served in the dining car
he ate his cindery biscuits out of a paper bag
and when George the porter made up berths in the Pullman
he sat up all night in the Jim Crow coach
Because of his eminently practical attitude
Dr. Washington was successful in shaking down
The big white philanthropists
Like C.P. Huntington the railroad shark
or was it octopus
and Negro education was on its way.

Old church
since 1904
you and I have seen some changes
slow at first
now picking up speed
I have just come from Mississippi
where I saw churches like this one
burned to the ground
or smashed flat with bombs
almost like Germany when I was there in 1945
only these Negroes were not beaten people
They sang in the ashes and wreckage
such songs as We Shall Overcome
and Let My Little Light Shine
O Freedom! they sang
Before I'll be a slave
I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
They sang I'm going to sit at the welcome table
I'm going to live in the Governor's mansion
one of these days
I heard three mothers speak
who had made the President listen
and "almost cry, or he made like he was about to cry"
when they told him how their homes had been dynamited
"It's not hard to be brave"
one of these mothers said
"but it's awful hard to be scared"
I expect see her statue on a column in the square
in place of the Confederate soldier's
one of these days

Slavery looked pretty permanent in 1858
when it had just five years to go
and now in 1964
the White Citizens' Councils and the Ku Klux Klan
think they can keep their kind of half-slave South forever
Their South isn't on the way out
It's already dead and gone
only they don't know it
They buried it themselves
in that earthwork dam near Philadelphia Mississippi
when they thought they were getting rid of the bodies

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June 22, 2014

SDS "Red Guards" Sum Up the Battle of People's Park, 1969

I am posting today a document from 1969, a summation of the Battle of People's Park in Berkeley, CA. It is one very cool document, for several reasons:

1. It reclaims another bit of the history of people's struggle from the Great American Memory Hole. Those who came up in the '60s will find their memories jogged, while younger folk will get a glimpse of a different period in our long battle to smash exploitation and oppression.

People's Park was created by radical students and community residents in Berkeley, CA on a trashed and abandoned lot on the University of California campus there. It embodied many of the strains of what we think of as The Sixties—a radical critique of the corporate multiversity and of capitalist property relations, a turn to "natural" rather than built environments, do-it-yourself approach to social change, direct action tactics. After a period of community meetings and articles in the local underground press, construction began on April 20, 1969. Residents donated tools, sod, plants, time and sweat.

California governor Ronald Reagan had run pledging to crack down on UC Berkeley students, whom he had called "communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants." Here was his chance. Overriding ongoing local negotiations involving activists, the U and the city, he sent cops in on May 15 to trash the park and erect an 8' chain link fence around the site.

A campus rally produced a march of thousands to liberate the park. Cops fought them off while Reagan's chief of staff Ed Meese ordered in hundreds of reinforcements from all over the Bay Area. The pigs used shotguns and rifles, killing student James Rector, who was watching from a roof and wounding over 100. Meese nrought in the National Guard, days of freeform street protest followed, and the park was eventually reclaimed.

2. The document is an impressive early attempt at summation in Marxist (and Maoist, to be more exact) terms of a major struggle by Red participants. In this case folks who had helped build the Park, and took part in the action summed it up, using the method of analyzing strengths and weaknesses, and looking at the class forces and political lines involved in the way the battle played out.

3. It is a glimpse at the birth pangs of new communist movement of the '70s. This can be seen most clearly in the polemics are delivered against other tendencies. Least effective (in retrospect) is the section targeting a Jim Mellon article on People's Park in New Left Notes (the newspaper of Students for a Democratic Society). Mellon was an early theorist for the trend that became the Weather Underground, while this paper is clearly aligned with the emerging RYM II trend. The authors of the article critique

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March 28, 2014

How Hip Hop Prefigured "The New Jim Crow"

[Welcome to the first article in a while FotM has posted by old friend Mark Naison, activist, organizer, educator, scholar, novelist, Bad Ass Teacher and, on occasion, MC (as The Notorious PhD). This essay draws on various of his skills to make an argument so clear that it may strike folks who never thought about it as obvious. The incisive work of Michelle Alexander in her 2010 The New Jim Crow has been transformative in its effects, but many whose view of the world it so bluntly readjusted might not have found it so surprising had they been listening carefully to many of the hip hop cuts of two decades ago.      Jimmy Higgins]

Hip Hop Commentary on the Prison System:
An Unrecognized Antecedent to The New Jim Crow

by Mark Naison

"You ain't gotta be locked up to be in prison
Look how we livin, thirty thousand niggas a day
Up in the bing, standard routine
They put us in a box just like our life on the block"

Dead Prez  “Behind Enemy Lines”

When Michelle Alexander published The New Jim Crow several years ago, many people were shocked to discover the devastating impact that the drug war and mass incarceration had on Black communities throughout the nation.  The narrative her book contained was not one which had wide dissemination in commercial media, and was certainly never presented with the power, authority and mixture of statistical evidence and storytelling that The New Jim Crow displayed

However, there was one place where the story Michelle Alexander presented was highlighted with equal eloquence, and at times, even greater vividness and that was Hip Hop. From the late 1980’s through the beginning of the 20th Century, as the crack epidemic and the drug war it triggered led the number of incarcerated people to exceed 2 million and the number of people it indirectly affected by it to reach at least 10 times that number, a number of the most talented hip hop artists in the country, some commercially successful, some not, told heartbreaking stories in their music about what the prison system and the drug war were doing to individuals and whole communities.

Hip Hop artists, on the ground in the most affected communities, coming from the generation of young people who gravitated to the drug business as the legal economy in their communities produced only low-paying service jobs, began spinning out prison narratives in great profusion, some of them filled with political commentary, some of them offering personal stories in grim detail.

In the first category is Brand Nubian’s “Claimin’ I’m a Criminal” which sees the police apparatus developed during the drug war as something used to crush dissent in the Black community and  views prison as a place filled with rebels against mass impoverishment
I know the game so I just roll with the procedure
Illegal search and seizure, somethin that they're doin at their leisure
Down at the station, 
interrogation is takin place
Overcrowded jails but for me they're makin space
Tell the devil to his face he can suck my dick
It's the whole Black race that they're fuckin with
But even amidst their rage at the incarceration of a generation of Black youth, Brand Nubian offers this heartrending portrait of what jail feels like to any inmate, activist or not- when you are alone with desperate angry men, separated from your crew, your children, your wife or girlfriend, fearful for your life, afraid you are going to losing everything you had on the outside.
I was frustrated, I can't do no more push-ups
Niggas be swole up, locked down cos of a hold-up
"The devil made me do it" is what I say
Got some bad news on my one phone call the other day
"I love the kids and I teach em to love their father
I'll get you some kicks and try to send some flicks
But it's over, baby, yes it's over"
Ain't much you can do when you're holdin a phone
A million inmates but ya still alone
You're not cryin but inside ya dyin
You might cry in the night when ya safe and outta sight
Damn I miss my peeps and the rides in the jeeps
And my casual freedom, where's my crew when I need em?
An even more detailed look at prison life, without the explicit political commentary , is presented what most think is the greatest hip hop prison narrative ever written, Nas’s “One Love.’ which appeared on his landmark album “Illmatic,”  which appeared when he was only 19 years old. Nas (Nasir Jones) who grew up in the Queensbridge Houses in New York creates a narrative in which prison, along with early death, has become the fate of an entire generation of Black youth living in the inner city in the late 1980’s to mid 90’s. The conversational intimacy of Nas's account, which juxtaposes portraits of prison life to those of street life, is the stuff of great literature, presenting an alternate reality which middle class Americans, Black as well as white, had little direct exposure to:
What's up kid? I know shit is rough doing your bid
When the cops came you should've slid to my crib
Fuck it, Black, no time for looking back, it's done
Plus congratulations you know you got a son
I heard he looks like you, why don't your lady write you?
Told her she should visit, that's when she got hyper
Flippin, talk about he acts too rough
He didn't listen he be riffin' while I'm telling him stuff
I was like yeah, shorty don't care, she a snake too
Fucking with the niggas from that fake crew that hate you
But yo, guess who got shot in the dome-piece?
Jerome's niece, on her way home from Jones Beach - it's bugged
Plus little Rob is selling drugs on the dime
Hangin out with young thugs that all carry 9's
Nas’s intimacy with the dangers on the inside, of rapes and beatings and deadly beefs, whether on Rikers Island or in upstate prisons (Elmira) gives the song a chilling quality. Here is a 19 year old artist who lives in a world where death and humiliation lurk around every corner:
But I heard you blew a nigga with a ox for the phone piece
Wildin on the Island, but now in Elmira
Better chill cause them niggas will put that ass on fire
Last time you wrote you said they tried you in the showers
But maintainwhen you come home the corner's ours
In the final verse, Nas acknowledges that nothing he has ever learned in school, or read, prepared him for the realities he and his friends face, and  proclaims writing them down in verse as his personal mission:
Sometimes I sit back with a Buddha sack
Mind's in another world thinking how can we exist through the facts
Written in school text books, bibles, et cetera
Fuck a school lecture, the lies get me vexed-er
So I be ghost from my projects
I take my pen and pad for the weekend
Nas was Michelle Alexander before The New Jim Crow, warning anyone who would listen of the tragedy befalling his generation. But it was 1994, and no one much outside of the hip hop audience  listened.

The combination of intimate details of prison life and acute consciousness of tragedy, which Nas's song highlights, appears in a great many Hip Hop prison narratives which followed “One Love” including those which were circulated only locally in various cities. Rawcotics, a Dominican Hip Hop group from Washington Heights, displays these features in a song widely circulated in NY called “Going All Out.” First the duo describes the virtual inevitability of incarceration among young men in their neighborhood:
Whats all my niggas is getting rich by breaking the law
Going through banded walls
Soothing the pain up with alcohol
Living the criminal tradition of organized crime and cooking mines
Playing with nickles and dimes
And then millions civilians is still snitching
Dangerous for legal living that is caused by the ammunition
Uncle Sam is mad win again
Every time we get locked up we feel somebody's throwing the coffins

That done, they move on to a fear filled narrative of what awaits them in prison:
Ayo my drug infected sections got me infected what a selection direction
Department of corrections. Check though I left my castle unprotected
On a bus with these addicts stressing my necklace bullpens full of hooligans bull
Many vipers and mad syphers for the phone you get blown to the bone
. . . .
Me that body be in the infirmary emergency look at the shit that I got
Into for the American Currency Guliani got new laws got me looking at
Great walls bangs are being made in the mess hall
There is no pretense that this is anything but normal reality for young men in Washington Heights, as it was for those in the Queensbridge Houses. Did anyone outside this world notice, or care? Not much--at least in the 1990’s.
At the end of the decade, some politically conscious hip hop artists began to directly address the indifference towards the mass incarceration of young men in inner city communities on the part of the vast majority of the American population. Some artists came together on an album called No More Prisons and one of the most powerful contributions was a song by Chubb Rock, and Lil Dap, Ed O.G. and Paw Duke  “Rich Get Rich” with a chorus that presents a chilling view of life in the “hood”:
Because life ain't shit, you got to work for yours
Got to hustle from the bottom just to feed the poor
Niggas think shit is funny, got to work for yours
See the rich get, rich, the poor get poor
But the most powerful lyric is Chubb Rock’s enumeration of major New York and New Jersey prisons along with matter of fact references to the things that happen to people in them, along with a cry of rage at the rich who profit from crime and somehow never end up behind bars;
The JFK niggas died in cellblock 9
From the crack lackeys, hold your asshole in Coxsackie
Green Haven nigs in pens sweatin like pigs
Niggas get clockwork for five to ten blockwork
Then cry for balance, then toss the salads
Of the long wrong life, beaten knife, wound cabbage
Greenvale niggas at night, for bail adage
The Guilianis, Armanis, who launder
The ducats from the Mexicans sweatin niggz from Rahway
How the fuck can street crack rule the NASDAQ?
That's like a rap nigga getting a check from ASCAP --
Can't happen, after Attica rule the Richter
The poor went raw and the rich got richer
The song, which in some way prefigures Michelle Alexander’s entire argument, ends with a passionate shout out by Chubb Rock to people he knows behind bars:
D-Rock, peace peace and one time peace
Freeze Love, peace peace and peace peace
Cocksachie, Greenvale, Greenwald
Attica, one more time, hold on
Rahway, come back cell block H
And everybody in Riker's, one love
One love..
At around the same time, Dead Prez came out with a song called “Behind Enemy Lines” that may be the most powerful direct indictment of mass incarceration and its impact on the Black community ever recorded  As you review the lyrics I quote, please remember that this song appeared at least ten years before the appearance of  The New Jim Crow:

The song begins with an invented dialogue between  a guard and prisoners that goes as follows:
Let's go fellas, shower time's in five minutes

Get those feet off the table, whaddyou think this is, home?

(This is bullshit - yo son let me get a cigarette)
(I'ma go.. back to my cell and read)

That's it - five more minutes and that's it
Back to work fellas, back to work!
The song then moves on to a narrative of someone who Dead Prez describes as a political prisoner, Fred Hampton Jr,, setting the stage for their analysis of mass incarceration as a form of political repression:
Yo, lil' Kadeija pops his locks, he wanna pop the lock
But prison ain't nuttin but a private stock
And she be dreamin bout his date of release, she hate the police
But loved by her grandma who hugs and kisses her
Her father's a political prisoner, Free Fred
Son of a Panther that the government shot dead
Back in 12/4, 1969
Four o'clock in the mornin, it's terrible but it's fine, cause

Fred Hampton Jr. looks just like him
Walks just like him, talks just like him
And it might be frightenin the Feds and the snitches
To see him organize the gang brothers and sisters

So he had to be framed yo, you know how the game go
Eighteen years, because the five-oh said so
They said he set a fire to a a-rab store

But he ignited the minds of the young black and poor
Dead Prez then produces the first of two incredible choruses where they present their political analysis:
Behind enemy lines, my niggas is cellmates
Most of the youths never escape the jail fates
Super maximum camps will advance they gameplan
To keep us in the hands of the man, locked up
Their next verse presents a devastating portrait of a Black youth abandoned, growing up in a devastated neighborhood, who ends up with a gun in his hand and a life behind bars, viewing his story as a metaphor for several generations  of Black youth discarded, their potential squandered, their passion directed into a struggle for survival that leaves many casualties. Or, as Dead Prez puts it, “another ghetto child turned into a killer”:
Lord can't even smoke a loosey since he was twelve
Now he's 25 locked up with a L
hey call him triple K, cause he killed three niggas
Another ghetto child got turned into a killer
His pops was a Vietnam veteran on heroin
Used like a pawn by these white North Americans

Momma couldn't handle the stress and went crazy
Grandmomma had to raise the baby
Just a young boy, born to a life of poverty
Hustlin, robbery, whatever brung
The paper home
Carried the chrome like a blind man holdin cane
Tattoes all over his chest, so you can know his name
But y'all know how the game go
Ds kicked in the front door, and guess who
They came fo'?
A young nigga headed for the pen,
Coulda been
Shoulda been
Never see the hood again 
Their final chorus presents a simple concept: Prison has become a metaphor for Black life in inner city neighborhoods throughout the nation. Never has their been a more elegant description of what sociologist  Loiq Waquant has called “ The Prison/Hood Symbiosis,” than this chorus from Dead Prez:
You ain't gotta be locked up to be in prison
Look how we livin, thirty thousand niggas a day
Up in the bing, standard routine

They put us in a box just like our life on the blocks
(behind enemy lines)
You ain't gotta be locked up to be in prison
Look how we livin, thirty thousand niggas a day
Up in the bing, standard routine
They put us in a box just like our life on the blocks
(behind enemy lines)
What I hope to have shown here is that almost every important component of Michelle Alexander’s argument was presented by hip hop artists from 10 to 20 years before her book appeared. And in forms that were deeply familiar to the hip hop audience, and touched powerful emotions. That this discourse was neglected, and at times mocked, in virtually every mainstream venue of mass communication does not negate its power and importance.  It only shows how easily our society renders whole sections of the population invisible.

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February 12, 2014

Comrade Valentine's Day Slogans--An Historical Compendium

February is the month in which we celebrate one of the great holidays of the international working class. And it is a fine thing indeed that the Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day 2014 have been released by the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad.

As it has done for over a decade, Freedom Road has commendably undertaken to give scientific guidance to comrades celebrating this great day, taking into account the exact conjuncture of the class struggle at the present time. Because our movement is rooted firmly in the method and world outlook of dialectical and historical materialism, Fire on the Mountain has compiled in this post links to as much of the recent history of CVD as is available at present. (Inexplicably, the generally valuable Marxist Internet Archives and Encyclopedia of anti-Revisionism On-Line do not contain this crucial archival material.)

We are aware of the dangers that revisionists and "left" sectarians alike may rummage around in this compendium, seeking to nit-pick or posit, a-historically, contradictions between one year and another. but FotM has confidence in the experience of veteran comrades and the perspicacity of the rising generation of class warriors alike. May they draw inspiration from the past and carry the observation of Comrade Valentine's Day into the bright future!

First, this year's slogans, from the FRSO/OSCL website:

Toilers! Tillers! All who yearn and fight for a better world!

Let us surge forward together, wave on wave, illumined by the bright red rays of Comrade Valentine's revolutionary romanticism. 

Decisively demolish the saccharine commodity fetishism with which the bourgeoisie attempts to smother the proletarian character of Comrade Valentine's Day. 

 Joyously celebrate the deepening rejection of heteropatriarchal homophobia by the masses in their millions, a victory for Comrade Valentine's Communist line!
A new graphic illustrates the slogans.

The Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day 2013 can be found on the FRSO/OSCL website.
Translations were supplied in Spanish, Filipino, Mandarin, Irish, Malayalam, Bosnian/ Croatian/Serbian, Swedish, German and Norwegian. A new graphic appeared as well. Research indicates it was created by a professional artist, Magaly Ohika of Puerto Rico.

Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian
Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian

Toilers! Tillers! All who yearn and fight for a better world!
Let us surge forward together, wave on wave, illumined by the bright red rays of Comrade Valentine’s revolutionary romanticism.
Decisively demolish the saccharine commodity fetishism with which the bourgeoisie attempts to smother the proletarian character of Comrade Valentine’s Day!!
Joyously celebrate the deepening rejection of heteropatriarchal homophobia by the masses in their millions, a victory for Comrade Valentine’s Communist line!!!
- See more at: http://freedomroad.org/2014/02/official-slogans-for-comrade-valentines-day-2014/#sthash.Vs0z5xrF.dpuf
Toilers! Tillers! All who yearn and fight for a better world!
Let us surge forward together, wave on wave, illumined by the bright red rays of Comrade Valentine’s revolutionary romanticism.
Decisively demolish the saccharine commodity fetishism with which the bourgeoisie attempts to smother the proletarian character of Comrade Valentine’s Day!!
Joyously celebrate the deepening rejection of heteropatriarchal homophobia by the masses in their millions, a victory for Comrade Valentine’s Communist line!!!
- See more at: http://freedomroad.org/2014/02/official-slogans-for-comrade-valentines-day-2014/#sthash.Vs0z5xrF.dpuf

Toilers! Tillers! All who yearn and fight for a better world!
Let us surge forward together, wave on wave, illumined by the bright red rays of Comrade Valentine’s revolutionary romanticism.
Decisively demolish the saccharine commodity fetishism with which the bourgeoisie attempts to smother the proletarian character of Comrade Valentine’s Day!!
Joyously celebrate the deepening rejection of heteropatriarchal homophobia by the masses in their millions, a victory for Comrade Valentine’s Communist line!!!
- See more at: http://freedomroad.org/2014/02/official-slogans-for-comrade-valentines-day-2014/#sthash.Vs0z5xrF.dpuf
The Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day 2012 can be found on the FRSO/OSCL website.
Translations were supplied in Mandarin, Spanish, Irish, German, Italian, Indonesian, Swedish and Norwegian. 2012 marked the first time the Official Slogans were credited to the Freedom Road Line Development Commission, as they have been since. An experimental  CVD Slogans From Below feature was introduced but evidently did not catch on.

The Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day 2011 can be found on the FRSO/OSCL website.
Translations were supplied in English and Mandarin.
Freedom Road Line Development Commission

The Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day, 2010 can be found on the FRSO/OSCL website.
Translations were supplied in German, Spanish and Swedish.

The Comrade Valentine's Day slogans for 2009 appeared only here at Fire on the Mountain.
Translations were supplied in Swedish, German and Spanish (2 versions). This may be the first appearance of the CVD "rising heart" version of Freedom Road's official rising star logo.

The Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day, 2008 appear on the FRSO/OSCL website.

The Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day, 2007 appear on the FRSO/OSCL website.
Translation was supplied in Spanish.

The Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day 2006 appear on the FRSO/OSCL website.
Translation was supplied in Spanish. This appears to have been the first occasion upon which the Official Slogans appeared in a language other than English.

The Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine's Day 2005 are to be found in a comment on a thread in an FotM reposting of the 2011 Official Slogans. They were:
Workers and Oppressed People, Hold Aloft the Bright Red, Heart-Shaped Banner of Comrade Valentine's Day!

Hail the Trailblazing Revolutionary Gay Marriage of Ka Andres and Ka Jose of the Compostela Valley Province Front of the New People's Army of the Philippines!

Resolutely Repudiate All Attacks by the Reactionaries of the Monopolist Ruling Class and Their Joyless, Puritanical Running Dogs on Women's Reproductive Freedom, on the Democratic Rights of LGBTQ People, and on Progress toward Genuine Equality between Women and Men!

And before 2005? All that exists is the following section of  Fire on the Mountain's 2011 repost of  the Official Slogans for that year:
The 2004 Official Slogans, thought lost, have been retrieved by Comrade Google as they were preserved by the far-sighted Scott McLemee. Here they are:
Workers and Oppressed People, Unite to Make Comrade Valentine's Day a Joyous Holiday of Proletarian Class Love and Militant Struggle!

Decisively Defeat the Sinister Schemes of the Bush/Cheney Gangster Clique to Thwart the Romantic Aspirations of the L/G/B/T/Q masses!

Eternal Glory to Comrade Valentine!
Secondary sources--the legendary Leftist Trainspotters listserv--indicate that Comrade Valentine's Day Official Slogans were also released in 2002 and 2003. Further archival work will, it is to be hoped, make them accessible to future generations of proletarian fighters.

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